From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
This article was written in response to a discussion during episode 168 of the Meeples and Miniature podcast.
Progress marches on, in the miniatures space as much as anywhere else. In many ways I would say (and have said) that we are living in a golden age of miniatures. More games, more manufacturers, and more models than ever before, as well as ever easier ways of finding and funding them.
One cloud in this clear blue sky is the role of games stores. Once the sole way to discover games, have the stores simply been passed by by progress, or is there still a role they can play? If so, what is that role?
A store can only keep so much merchandise in stock. Space costs money – any shop has to pay its rent. This means that high-turnover stock is favoured. A store that focuses only one the top selling game may be missing out, and competing with the web becomes increasingly difficult. A web store attached to a warehouse can offer a more expansive range and usually at a better price. Simply putting stock on the shelf is not the answer. This has to be done with some thought and flexibility.
The Kickstarter website has made it easier for end users (in this case gamers) to directly fund the products they wish to see. This is a risk-shifting exercise, as anyone who has backed a campaign that failed to deliver has discovered. Crowdfunding may not be moving business away from stores as most products would never come to stores. It does act as a forward marketing exercise, and many stores are happily selling games such as Zombicide. Crowdfunding is simultaneously threat and opportunity, but is not going to replace stores per se.
Box and dice
So what does a store offer? More to the point, what does it offer that others cannot? A store can give you the product you want immediately. In terms of time, nothing beats seeing an item on the shelf, paying for it, and taking it home – though Amazon are trying.
A good store can give you guidance in what to buy. I have to be honest here though. I have been in many game stores in Australia and in other countries. The only stores that even tried to do this were GW stores, and naturally they will only recommend GW products. So that remains a theoretical advantage from my perspective.
Having something immediately available is great. Whether that be a plastic regiment, some paints and glue, or the latest rule release or a character to finish off an army, being able to walk into a shop and buy what you need right now is something gamers like. The reality remains though, that a business model of filling the shelves, opening the door, and waiting for people to walk in is simply not sustainable.
It is this, but not only this.
Community – stores without borders
The other that stores can over is not just a place to play, but people to play against. Providing a space for gamers to meet and play is a real advantage. Stores that struggle will (IMO) be those that offer a few shelves of product and nothing else. There’s not point in my buying a five-player board game if I only know one other gamer, or a two player starter set for a game nobody else plays. A store can provide a place to come together with other gamers.
In addition to this the ability (and willingness) for stores to travel to conventions, club meetings, and other events will be crucial in keeping a role. One very large store in Australia pulled back from its annual marquee event, three years later it was in liquidation. Moving from active outreach to passive webstore was not a great decision.
When looking at the ideal active store though, the role of manufacturers becomes sharper. Several manufacturers have taken actions to limit or prevent some types of sales to favour the brick and mortar approach. While ultimately I think this will prove counter-productive, for now the actions of manufacturers like Asmodee North America can change what stores can do – for better and for worse.
Limiting the types of store that can sell your product may sound good in theory, but all you are really doing is restricting the activity of every store that sells your product. Unless you are Magic: the Gathering the chances are high that a store will choose flexibility over you.
To the future!
Stores have a role. To my eyes that role is tied into actively travelling and evangelising, while providing a space for gamers to meet up and play. Will this be a sustainable solution?Too soon to tell.
Interesting thoughts. Inthinkmit is increasingly difficult to make running a hobby shop successful. I would take a well run, friendly games store over Internet purchasing every day but there isn’t one where I live or work. I have to travel to get to one, so factoring in travel cost and time it is usually quicker and cheaper for me to buy online, so it is only for events or the community that I tend to go.
The online/playing space/warehouse model is probably the way ahead.
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A really thoughtful post. Like many, I’d always want to use a physical bricks n mortar shop and try to support the couple that I frequent. I think the answer may be what you’ve suggested plus non-core activity – food, drink, merchandise, fiction…
Interesting read. Yes, I agree, the big thing physical stores can offer is a space to play and a place to meet opponents. That is the main reason I try to buy as much of my hobby stuff as I can from the stores I play at.
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